Thursday, October 27, 2016

New Article & the Straussian Appeal

I like the work of Leo Strauss and his followers more for their method of analysis as opposed to their conclusions. Say what you want about them, they have tremendously influenced "conversations" in academic and intellectual circles.

Take, for instance, this new article written by professor of law and Donald Trump speechwriter F.H. Buckley in The American Conservative. I generally don't agree with the tenor of the article. Though, I think the article is interesting, makes some good points and is therefore worth reading (which is what I think in general of T.A.C.).

This quotation below relates to the mission of American Creation:
[M]ost intellectuals on the right draw their inspiration not from the Judeo-Christian tradition but from abstract theories of natural rights that have little need of God. They revere Jefferson, but as Walter Berns once asked me, just what kind of a god is “Nature and Nature’s God” anyway? At most, He’s Descartes’s god, as seen by Pascal, where he appears in Act I of the drama to give the system a “little push” and then departs the scene. But if that’s all He is, why do we need Him?


... By resting their political beliefs on abstract axioms of natural rights they have subscribed to theories of learned heartlessness; and it is a testament to their personal goodness that they’re better than their theories.
One doesn’t learn empathy or kindness from John Locke. Perhaps it’s not something one learns at all. The natural lawyer says it’s written on one’s heart; the evolutionary biologist says it’s coded in our genes, which perhaps comes down to the same thing. But it’s not to be derived from abstract theories. At best it’s a philosopher’s premise, not his conclusion, as it was for Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. We might get it from our families, or be reminded of it by novelists such as Dickens, Hugo, or E.M. Forster. Mostly, however, we get it from religious education and belief. 


... Even devout Christians will prefer to speak the language of natural law and natural rights, conceding to the secular left the principle that moral and political arguments can be framed only in terms that might appeal to people of other or no faiths. But in so doing they abandon the firmest and most encompassing foundations of our moral language.
... The natural-rights theorist can tell you what others owe him, but not what he owes to others save for the thinnest of duties: don’t harm others, don’t steal from them or defraud them. Does that sound like a complete moral code? ....
This is East Coast Straussianism, something the author learned from at the very least Walter Berns whom he cites. This isn't West Coast Straussianism. (Though, I've heard Berns, along with Michael Zuckert categorized as "mid-Western," something in between East and West Coast Straussianism.)

Berns may have been wrong on the "Nature's God" part of the Declaration of Independence. The personal writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin demonstrate they believed in a warmer deity. Or perhaps there is some chain of reasoning that demonstrates this "Nature's God" is more deistic than even those authors understood Him to be.

The East Coast Straussians thought natural rights were a "solid" place to rest a political order, but also a "low" place, and therefore should be supported but with a corrective. The explicit politics of revelation (what Buckley argues for) is one such corrective.

The Straussians are often termed "neoconservatives." I think many are; and some are not. But Mr. Buckley is the furthest thing from a non-religious Straussian neoconservative.

But he learned from them.

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